Premier John Horgan, left, shares a laugh with with Chief Na’Moks (John Ridsdale) during a smoke feast in Witset March 16 held to announce a new round of discussions on Indigenous rights and title between the Wet’suwet’en and Province of British Columbia. (Thom Barker photo)

Hereditary chiefs agree to new talks over northern B.C. pipeline

Meanwhile, the RCMP confirms additional officers in Houston will be on stand-by

The RCMP has confirmed rumours that they are mobilizing in B.C.’s Bulkley Valley for enforcement of court injunction granting pipeline operator Coastal Gaslink access to a worksite near Houston.

Spokesperson Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet said the decisions to do so were made prior to the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs announcing on Thursday they have agreed to meet with the province and convene a seven-day discussion table referred to as a “Wiggus.”

The RCMP will abide by the Wiggus, which means “respect” in the Wet’suwet’en language, Shoihet said, and the additional officers will be on stand-by for the seven-day period. The force’s checkpoint at Morice West Forest Service Road will remain in place.

Rumours of the RCMP deployment began to circulate around Houston when three container units were installed outside the Community Hall. These are similar to arrangements a year ago when the Mounties enforced an earlier court injunction resulting in 14 arrests.

Premier John Horgan has said the Wiggus is a chance to work towards de-escalation.

Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser will lead the provincial team, while former New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen will be the “neutral” liaison between parties.

Coastal GasLink has signed agreements with 20 elected First Nations along the pipeline’s 670-kilometre route from northeastern B.C. to an export terminal in Kitimat but the hereditary clan chiefs say it has no authority without their consent.

The B.C. Supreme Court granted the company an injunction on Dec. 31. The order called for the removal of any obstructions including cabins and gates on any roads, bridges or work sites the company has been authorized to use.

It also gives authorization to the RCMP to arrest and remove anyone police have “reasonable or probable grounds” to believe has knowledge of the order and is contravening it.

Earlier Thursday, the hereditary clan chiefs and their supporters called for a public investigation into the way the RCMP are controlling access along the road.

The RCMP have said they set up a checkpoint along the Morice West Forest Service Road south of Houston to prevent the dispute from escalating after patrol officers discovered hazards along the road.

But the chiefs along with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs allege that the Mounties are unlawfully restricting access on Wet’suwet’en traditional territory.

“We cannot be criminalized for using our law to access our lands, our foods, our medicine, our way of life,” said Chief Na’moks, who dialled into a news conference in Vancouver.

The coalition has submitted a complaint to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, asking the chairperson to initiate a policy complaint and public interest investigation.

READ MORE: RCMP pipeline checkpoint ‘arbitrary and discriminatory,’ say B.C. complainants

– with files from the Canadian Press

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